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Nicky Lopez is developing a reputation for late-game heroics.
The senior guard's off-balance buzzer-beating 3-pointer was the difference in Naperville Central's come-from-behind 57-54 overtime victory against Benet in the Hoops for Healing Tournament championship game Friday night at Oswego.
"He's done it before," Redhawks coach Pete Kramer said. "He's done it before."
"This morning (at the shootaround) we actually ran a play and I made the shot and was running around," said Lopez, who also had similar success at Glenbard East last season. "It was deja vu, kinda like. Then seeing my fans and everything run at me, it was awesome. I couldn't have done it without my teammates, though."
Benet, ranked fifth in the Daily Herald's preseason Top 20, led by between 4 and 8 points most of the game until the No. 19 Redhawks broke through in the fourth quarter, tying the game at 41 on Mike Blazczyk's 3-pointer with 4:05 to play. Blazczyk struck again with a basket with 17 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
"Keep fighting back," Lopez said. "We're a good team, we're a strong team in the heart. We just always fight and never take anything for granted. We always want to win the game. We just always battle."
The overtime period looked good for Benet when the Redwings scored the first 5 points of the period, but again the Redhawks came back, tying the game again on Austin Pauga's basket with 1:58 to go. That set the scene for Lopez.
Blazczyk had the basketball but briefly lost the handle as time wound down. Seeing the Benet defense about to collapse on him, he passed to Lopez, and Lopez turned and shot all in one motion.
Almost like the Redhawks drew it up in a timeout called to set up the play.
"It was close," Kramer said. "Except Pauga was supposed to take it. Blaze went the other way and we just said stay around the perimeter. Whoever they draw, kick it to the guy that's open. We wanted to go at about eight seconds because we didn't want to give them the ball back."
All in all, a pretty good first week of the season for Naperville Central.
"Oh, it was a great first week," Lopez said.
For Benet the disappointment of losing is tempered by the knowledge there is a lot of room for improvement. The Benet football team's run to the Class 7A semifinals put the basketball team far behind schedule.
"We have yet to really practice with everybody," Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. "... We've played four games without really practicing. We're not really hitting on all cylinders, but give them credit, they hung in there, played real hard and they made shots down the stretch."
Senior Pat McInerney had a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds for Benet, Sean O'Mara added 14 points and 8 rebounds and Eddie Eshoo scored 11.
Blazczyk also scored 22, and Pauga added 13 for the Redhawks. Lopez scored 6.
"They're an unbelievable basketball team," Kramer said of Benet, "just great. I'm so excited for the kids because when you beat a basketball team like that at this time of the year, it's exciting and just gratifying."
The teams play again at the Sears Centre on Jan. 26.
"It feels great," Blazczyk said. "Benet's one of our rivals, and we're going to see them again at the Sears Centre later in the year, so it's nice to get the first 'W', especially for the championship."